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Chapter 1

This was a grand adventure, I told myself. The ideal situation at the ideal time. It was also one of the scariest things I’d ever done. So when I rounded the corner to find my aunt and uncle’s baby blue Thunderbird convertible snugged up to the curb in front of my new home, I was both surprised and relieved. Aunt Lucy knelt beside the porch steps, trowel in hand, patting the soil around a plant. She looked up and waved a gloved hand when I pulled into the driveway of the compact brick house, which had once been the carriage house of a larger home. I opened the door and stepped into the humid April heat. “Katie’s here—​­right on time!” Lucy called over her shoulder and hurried across the lawn to throw her arms around me. The aroma of patchouli drifted from her hair as I returned her hug. “How did you know I’d get in today?” I leaned my tush against the hood of my Volkswagen Beetle, then pushed away when the hot metal seared my skin

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through my denim shorts. “I wasn’t planning to leave Akron until tomorrow.” I’d decided to leave early so I’d have a couple of extra days to acclimate. Savannah, Georgia, was about as different from Ohio as you could get. During my brief visits I’d fallen in love with the elaborate beauty of the city, the excesses of her past—​­and present—​­and the food. Everything from high-­end cuisine to traditional Low Country dishes. “Oh, honey, of course you’d start early,” Lucy said. “We knew you’d want to get here as soon as possible. Let’s get you inside the house and pour something cool into you. We brought supper over, too—​­crab cakes, barbecued beans with rice, and some nice peppery coleslaw.” I sighed in anticipation. Did I mention the food? Her luxurious mop of gray-­streaked blond hair swung over her shoulder as she turned toward the house. “How was the drive?” “Long.” I inhaled the warm air. “But pleasant enough. The Bug was a real trouper, pulling that little trailer all that way. I had plenty of time to think.” Especially as I drove through the miles and miles of South Carolina marshland. That was when the enormity of my decisions during the past two months had really begun to weigh on me. She whirled around to examine my face. “Well, you don’t look any the worse for wear, so you must have been thinking happy thoughts.” “Mostly,” I said and left it at that. My mother’s sister exuded good cheer, always on the lookout for a silver lining and the best in others. A

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bit of a hippie, Lucy had slid seamlessly into the New Age movement twenty years before. Only a few lines augmented the corners of her blue eyes. Her brown hemp skirt and light cotton blouse hung gracefully on her short but very slim frame. She was a laid-­back natural beauty rather than a Southern belle. Then again, Aunt Lucy had grown up in Dayton. “Come on in here, you two,” Uncle Ben called from the shadows of the front porch. A magnolia tree shaded that corner of the house, and copper-­colored azaleas marched along the iron railing in a riot of blooms. A dozen iridescent dragonflies glided through air that smelled heavy and green. Lucy smiled when one of them zoomed over and landed on my wrist. I lifted my hand, admiring the shiny blue-­green wings, and it launched back into the air to join its friends. I waved to my uncle. “Let me grab a few things.” Reaching into the backseat, I retrieved my sleeping bag and oversized tote. When I stepped back and pushed the door shut with my foot, I saw a little black dog gazing up at me from the pavement. “Well, hello,” I said. “Where did you come from?” He grinned a doggy grin and wagged his tail. “You’d better get on home now.” More grinning. More wagging. “He looks like some kind of terrier. I don’t see a collar,” I said to Lucy. “But he seems well cared for. Must live close by.” She looked down at the little dog and cocked her head. “I wonder.” And then, as if he had heard a whistle, he ran off. Lucy shrugged and moved toward the house.

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By the steps, I paused to examine the rosemary topiary Lucy had been planting when I arrived. The resinous herb had been trained into the shape of a star. “Very pretty. I might move it around to the herb garden I’m planning in back.” “Oh, no, dear. I’m sure you’ll want to leave it right where it is. A rosemary plant by the front door is . . . ​ traditional.” I frowned. Maybe it was a Southern thing. Lucy breezed by me and into the house. On the porch, my uncle’s smiling brown eyes lit up behind rimless glasses. He grabbed me for a quick hug. His soft ginger beard, grown since he’d retired from his job as Savannah’s fire chief, tickled my neck. He took the sleeping bag from me and gestured me inside. “Looks like you’re planning on a poor night’s sleep.” Shrugging, I crossed the threshold. “It’ll have to do until I get a bed.” Explaining that I typically slept only one hour a night would only make me sound like a freak of nature. I’d given away everything I owned except for clothes, my favorite cooking gear and a few things of sentimental value. So now I had a beautiful little house with next to no furniture in it—​­only the two matching armoires I’d scored at an estate sale. But that was part of this grand undertaking. The future felt clean and hopeful. A life waiting to be built again from the ground up. We followed Lucy through the living room and into the kitchen on the left. The savory aroma of golden crab cakes and spicy beans and rice that rose from the take-­ out bag on the counter hit me like a cartoon anvil. My

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aunt and uncle had timed things just right, especially considering they’d only guessed at my arrival. But Lucy had always been good at guessing that kind of thing. So had I, for that matter. Maybe it was a family trait. Trying to ignore the sound of my stomach growling, I gestured at the small table and two folding chairs. “What’s this?” A wee white vase held delicate spires of French lavender, sprigs of borage with its blue star-­ shaped blooms, yellow calendula and orange-­streaked nasturtiums. Ben laughed. “Not much, obviously. Someplace for you to eat, read the paper—​­whatever. ’Til you find something else.” Lucy handed me a cold, sweating glass of sweet tea. “We stocked a few basics in the fridge and cupboard, too.” “That’s so thoughtful. It feels like I’m coming home.” My aunt and uncle exchanged a conspiratorial look. “What?” I asked. Lucy jerked her head. “Come on.” She sailed out of the kitchen, and I had no choice but to follow her through the postage-­stamp living room and down the short hallway. Our footsteps on the worn wooden floors echoed off soft peach walls that reached all the way up to the small open loft above. Dark brown shutters that fit with the original design of the carriage house folded back from the two front windows. The built-­in bookshelves cried out to be filled. “The vibrations in here are positively lovely,” she said. “And how fortunate that someone was clever enough to place the bedroom in the appropriate ba-­gua.”

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“Ba-­what?” She put her hand on the doorframe, and her eyes widened. “Ba-­gua. I thought you knew. It’s feng shui. Oh, honey, I have a book you need to read.” I laughed. Though incorporating feng shui into my furnishing choices certainly couldn’t hurt. Then I looked over Lucy’s shoulder and saw the bed. “Oh.” My fingers crept to my mouth. “It’s beautiful.” A queen-­sized headboard rested against the west wall, the dark iron filigree swooping and curling in outline against the expanse of Williamsburg blue paint on the walls. A swatch of sunshine cut through the window, spotlighting the patchwork coverlet and matching pillow shams. A reading lamp perched on a small table next to it. “I’ve always wanted a headboard like that,” I breathed. “How did you know?” Never mind the irony of my sleep disorder. “We’re so glad you came down to help us with the bakery,” Ben said in a soft voice. “We just wanted to make you feel at home.” As I tried not to sniffle, he put his arm around my shoulders. Lucy slipped hers around my waist. “Thank you,” I managed to say. “It’s perfect.” Lucy and Ben helped me unload the small rented trailer, and after they left I unpacked everything and put it away. Clothes were in one of the armoires, a few favorite books leaned together on the bookshelf in the living room, and pots and pans filled the cupboards. Now it was a little after three in the morning, and I lay

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in my new bed watching the moonlight crawl across the ceiling. The silhouette of a magnolia branch bobbed gently in response to a slight breeze. Fireflies danced outside the window. Change is inevitable, they say. Struggle is optional. Your life’s path deviates from what you intend. Whether you like it or not. Whether you fight it or not. Whether your heart breaks or not. After pastry school in Cincinnati, I’d snagged a job as assistant manager at a bakery in Akron. It turned out “assistant manager” meant long hours, hard work, no creative input and anemic paychecks for three long years. But I didn’t care. I was in love. I’d thought Andrew was, too—​­especially after he asked me to marry him. Change is inevitable . . . But in a way I was lucky. A month after Andrew called off the wedding, my uncle Ben turned sixty-­two and retired. No way was he going to spend his time puttering around the house, so he and Lucy brainstormed and came up with the idea to open the Honeybee Bakery. Thing was, they needed someone with expertise: me. The timing of Lucy and Ben’s new business venture couldn’t have been better. I wanted a job where I could actually use my culinary creativity and business know-­ how. I needed to get away from my old neighborhood, where I ran into my former fiancé nearly every day. The daily reminders were hard to take. So when Lucy called, I jumped at the chance. The money I’d scrimped and saved to contribute to the down payment on the new home where Andrew and I

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were supposed to start our life together instead went toward my house in Savannah. It was my way of committing wholeheartedly to the move south. See, some people can carry through a plan of action. I was one of them. My former fiancé was not. Jerk. Lucy’s orange tabby cat had inspired the name of our new venture. Friendly, accessible and promising sweet goodness, the Honeybee Bakery would open in another week. Ben had found a charming space between a knitting shop and a bookstore in historic downtown Savannah, and I’d flown back and forth from Akron to find and buy my house and work with my aunt to develop recipes while Ben oversaw the renovation of the storefront. I rolled over and plumped the feather pillow. The mattress was just right: not too soft and not too hard. But unlike Goldilocks, I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I flopped onto my back again. Strange dreams began to flutter along the edges of my consciousness as I drifted in and out. Finally, at five o’clock, I rose and dressed in shorts, a T-­shirt and my trusty trail runners. I needed to blow the mental cobwebs out. That meant a run. Despite sleeping only a fraction of what most people did, I wasn’t often tired. For a while I’d wondered whether I was manic. However, that usually came with its opposite, and despite its recent popularity, depression wasn’t my thing. It was just that not running made me feel a little crazy. Too much energy, too many sparks going off in my brain. I’d found the former carriage house in Midtown—​

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­ ot quite downtown but not as far out as Southside n suburbia, and still possessing the true flavor of the city. After stretching, I set off to explore the neighborhood. Dogwoods bloomed along the side streets, punctuating the massive live oaks dripping with moss. I spotted two other runners in the dim predawn light. They waved, as did I. The smell of sausage teased from one house, the voices of children from another. Otherwise, all was quiet except for the sounds of birdsong, footfalls, and my own breathing. Back home, I showered and donned a floral skort, tank top and sandals. After returning the rented trailer, I drove downtown on Abercorn Street, wending my way around the one-­way parklike squares in the historic district as I neared my destination. Walkers strode purposefully, some pushing strollers, some arm in arm. A ponytailed man lugged an easel toward the riverfront. Camera-­wielding tourists intermixed with suited professionals, everyone getting an early start. The air winging in through my car window already held heat as I turned left onto Broughton just after Oglethorpe Square and looked for a parking spot. I rubbed cold butter into flour, baking powder and salt, sensing with my fingertips when to add the finely grated sharp cheddar and a bit of cream to the scone dough. Finally, a commercial kitchen of my own. It was really happening. Lucy and Honeybee the cat had greeted me at the door with a plate of lavender-­laced biscotti. “Is our mascot going to stick around and charm the

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customers once we open?” I’d asked with trepidation, backing away from the orange-­striped feline. I adored her, I really did, right down to the bright white tip of her swirly tail. It wasn’t my fault I was so allergic to cats. I’d practically lived on antihistamines while staying with Ben and Lucy before I bought the carriage house. Honeybee did that squinty-­eyed thing and started to purr. Lucy laughed. “Don’t worry. She just wanted to check the place out. I’ll run her back home after we have a bite.” Well, the place was named after her. Lucy and I’d both chosen vanilla lattes for dunking the biscotti. The combination was heavenly. The flavor of the dried flower buds was light, the aroma enticing. My aunt had excellent instincts when it came to cooking. My nervousness about the move had evaporated. Not only was I in my element, but it was impossible to be anxious when surrounded by the color scheme we’d selected for the Honeybee. Light amber walls on three sides offset the burnt orange wall behind the counter. A huge blackboard above and behind the register listed the menu items: We would alter them as we learned what our customers liked best. In front of the display case, bright blue tablecloths covered fifteen small tables. The dark blue vinyl chairs on sturdy chrome legs had been chosen for maximum comfort. The array of stainless-­steel appliances in the kitchen, visible from the seating area, mirrored their silvery tone. A large bookshelf sat against one wall, waiting for the reading material Lucy wanted to provide for

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our customers. In front of it, two overstuffed sofas covered in jewel-­toned brocade offered more casual seating. Now, an hour later, the scent of the cheddar tantalized my nose as I worked. “We’re going to sell a ton of these,” I said to Lucy as she came back into the kitchen, fuzzy feline safely ensconced back at her and Ben’s town house. She peered over my shoulder and breathed deep. “Don’t I know it. But let’s add a little something to ensure that.” “Maybe some bacon?” I laughed. “Because everything’s better with bacon, right?” “I was thinking more along the lines of this.” She retrieved a Mason jar full of dried greenery from a shelf in the overflowing pantry. ���Sage. From my garden.” “Sage and cheddar are a great combination,” I agreed. “We should try that.” The front door jingled open. Quickly, I wiped my hands on a towel and walked out front. Behind me, Lucy said something. I stopped and turned. She stood over my scone dough, crumbling dried sage from the Mason jar into it and muttering under her breath. “What did you say?” I asked. My aunt didn’t look up. “Oh, nothing, hon.” The sound of clicking footsteps caught my attention, and I looked back toward the newcomer. A gray-­haired, precisely coiffed woman in her mid-­sixties strode into the bakery on three-­inch heels. “I’m sorry,” I said. “We’re not open for business yet. We’ll be opening next week, though, and would love

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for you to stop back by. There will be daily specials and—” “I know you’re not open for business, missy. I’m not stupid and I can read the sign in the window.” Deep frown lines defined her face from forehead to jowl. Her dark eyes snapped like a hawk’s. Startled, I opened my mouth. Closed it again. Lucy came up behind me. “Good morning, Mavis,” she said. “What can we do for you?” She pointed a vermilion-­tipped finger at me. “Mrs. Templeton to you.” I nodded my understanding in stunned silence. Her gaze homed in on Lucy. “I want to know what your intentions are.” “Our intentions?” my aunt asked. “For this place,” the older woman said. “The Sassafras Bakery on Lincoln Street closed down six months ago. You would know that, of course, if you have any head for business. I found that bakery quite pleasing, overall. They managed quite a decent brioche.” Lucy spoke carefully. “We are aware the Sassafras closed. The Honeybee will be a bit different, however.” Mrs. Templeton glared, first at my aunt, then at me and then at her surroundings. Her eyes flicked from the richly colored walls to the open kitchen to the empty bookcase. She sniffed when she saw the sofas, made a harrumphing sound as she took in the espresso counter. “I suppose you’ll allow people to bring in those horrible laptop computers and stay all day if they want to.”

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“Yes, and we’ll offer free access to the Internet,” Lucy replied. The red-­tipped claw came out again, shaking at us like we were naughty twelve-­year-­olds. “You’ll get all kinds of riffraff in here, ruin the neighborhood.” “We just don’t believe that, Mavis.” Lucy smiled and put her hand on my shoulder. “Everyone will be welcome here, and after people taste Katie’s baking the word will spread like wildfire.” Mrs. Templeton curled her lip and turned those bird eyes on me. “How old are you?” “Twenty-­eight,” I said, slightly terrified. “Too young. Good business requires experience, not nepotism. You’ll be closed in six months.” I felt my face redden as I struggled not to say something we’d all regret later. Who did this woman think she was, anyway? “Despite that, I’m going to give you an opportunity. This month’s brunch meeting of the Downtown Business Association shall be here at the Honeybee Bakery.” Sarcasm dripped from the last two words. “When is the meeting?” Lucy asked. “Wednesday.” “This Wednesday? But we’re not open yet,” I protested. “I’m not asking you to be open. The meeting is a private affair, anyway. Can you do it or not?” I shook my head, but Lucy stepped forward. “Let me talk to Ben, and we’ll call you.” Mrs. Templeton peered at the diamond-­encrusted

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watch on her bony wrist. “I need to know within two hours.” “Why the last-­minute rush?” I asked. She distributed an angry look between us. “The venue I had booked proved to be unsatisfactory at the last moment. Please be assured that if you take on this job the entire future of this establishment will be on the line. There will be thirty to thirty-­five attending.” And with that she turned on her spiked heel and marched out the door. I let out a whoosh of air. “Who was that?” “That,” Lucy said, “was Mavis Templeton. Savannah mover and shaker extraordinaire and one of the unhappiest women I’ve ever met.” “She’s horrible.” “Her husband is dead.” She sighed. “Died about fifteen years ago and left her all alone. She was unable to have children, though I understand she wanted them desperately. She’s grown lonely and bitter.” “I’ll say.” “In other words, exactly the sort of person who could use a bit of sugar in her life. A cookie here, a brownie there.” Oh, brother. Sometimes Lucy went a little too far with all the sweetness-­and-­light stuff. “We’re not really going to cater that meeting for her, are we? I mean, we never intended to be that kind of business.” A speculative expression settled on my aunt’s face. “It would be a terrific way to jump-­start awareness about the bakery and a perfect showcase for your cooking talents.” Her gaze caught mine, and I found myself unable to look away. “Can you do it?”

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Why was my head nodding? No, no, no. And yet, while my head nodded, my mind raced through menu choices, discarding one after another but settling on a few possibilities. “Whole eggs in brioche, muffins, scones and a baked strata with Italian bread, spinach and sausage as the savory option. Serve a citrus cooler along with their choice of coffee drinks, and plenty of fruit.” Lucy raised her palms to the ceiling and beamed. “See? Easy as pie.” “Very funny,” I said.

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Brownies and Broomsticks, Bailey Cates